ENSIGN KEEPS PUSHING IT…. I’d hoped we were past this nonsense by now.

John Ensign wants to make one thing very clear: he’s not sorry for saying it was “irresponsible” of President Obama to be seen laughing with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at last week’s Summit of the Americas.

“That visual image is going to be used by Chavez to legitimize himself,” said the Nevada Republican senator in an interview this week with the Fix. “Maybe if the president gets criticized for doing something like that he will be much more careful in the future.”

I’m curious, what, exactly, Ensign and his confused cohorts would have the president do. Obama, arguably the most well-known leader on the planet, attended an international gathering with heads of state from around the hemisphere. Presidents and prime ministers — some allies, some not — wanted to at least greet Obama, and perhaps share a few words.

Ensign seems to think the ridiculous attacks this week should teach Obama a lesson, and the president should be “much more careful in the future.” But what does that mean? The next time the leader of the free world is at an international gathering, he should hide in the bathroom so he doesn’t have to shake hands with third-rate bad guys from South America?

Or perhaps Ensign would prefer that U.S. leader avoid international gatherings altogether, and shrink from the global stage? (Yeah, that’ll show Hugo Chavez.)

We’re dealing with two visions of the role of U.S. leadership in the world. Ensign seems to believe America’s stature is fragile, and casual courtesies at an international forum promote weakness. President Obama seems to believe America’s stature is so strong, it can withstand a handshake with a foreign head of state, odious or not.

Which approach conveys a sense of strength and confidence, and which conveys a sense of fear and uncertainty?

I seem to recall Republicans like Ensign imploring the political world to believe politics ends at the water’s edge, and it’s simply wrong to attack a U.S. president when he’s representing us overseas. I wonder what happened to change their mind?

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.